Friday, October 23, 2015

Turn Meals Into Works of Art

The concentration is there, a look of sheer determination on her face. She is creating a masterpiece with every stroke. Her canvas has endless possibilities.

The placement of colors is a conscience choice and not just slapped about her canvas with reckless abandon. The artist wants you to feel something from her creation; she wants you to look at this masterpiece and lose yourself in its beauty.

Her hands move deftly around the canvas making decisions based on the power of her creative mind. Then she picks up the canvas, smiles, and takes a huge bite out of it.

I'm a stay at home dad in charge of keeping my kids fed and healthy so they can grow their minds and bodies. No pressure there. To be honest, going to the grocery store is on my list of least favorite things next to being there to hold them down during flu shot season. 

You would think as the one that volunteered to stay home that cooking would be somewhere in my repertoire but it's not. I can follow directions in a recipe but sometimes you have to be able to improvise because you forgot an ingredient at the store and there's no way you can fit another trip in before piano lessons.

But, I look at cooking just like art; while there are certain supplies that help you achieve a great work of art, it is the person combining those things together that makes it special.
Creating in the kitchen is just like creating anywhere else. It begins with choices that determine how successful or in this case, how delicious or nutritious something can be.

When it comes to kids they are the Dalis of dining. They all like weird stuff and their choices are questionable. Not only that but of our three kids not one of them likes all of the same things! Clearly there are no reproductions in this family. Combine that stress with a picky eater and it makes the entire process that much more daunting.

So just how did I get my kids to eat something nutritious and delicious? I put the creation in the hands of my little artists with Flatout Flatbread. They have a variety of products to choose from so there is something for everyone. From flatbread pizzas, tacos, and sandwiches there is bound to be something these Warhol weirdos DO like to eat. To find Flatout varieties in a store near you visit the store locator and try a $.50 off coupon today!

Does one kid like sandwiches? Try their Flatout Foldit Artisan Flatbreads. Does another like tacos? Give him a Flatbread Wrap. Parents, you can get in on this deal too. Are you trying to slim down? Use their Protein Up, Carb Down flatbread that contains 12 grams of protein and only 8 net carbs. Flatout has so many products with your healthy eating in mind that you can't go wrong. There is literally endless possibilities and combinations to be creative and no two works of art will be the same.

Give a kid a piece of bread and they may it eat but give the kids a Flatout flatbread and they will treat it like a canvas, creating their own edible masterpieces. With a little sauce, cheese, and toppings you have after school flatbread pizza ready in six minutes that they will actually eat it. Maybe you're not the creative type and you're afraid to step into the kitchen. The key is to make it fun! Still not sure or having artist's block? Try my Pepper and Pancetta Flatout flatbread pizza recipe below.

If you have difficulty getting your kids to eat something you made, put them in charge of the creation. You may find that when given more choices they will make healthier decisions while sticking to their special palettes. Your little culinary artists want to dazzle you with their creativity so let's let them by making Flatout their canvas. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

12 Things I Learned About Being a Man from Sons of Anarchy

Who would think that watching a show about a motorcycle club would have me looking at my own life and analyzing it? I've spent days and nights binge watching SOA on Netflix wondering why it has effected me so. I don't care for motorcycles given my limited time attempting to ride one but I love these brothers like they were my own.

When it comes to family, whether you are in a MC or driving a minivan, your choices you make in life will always lead you down different paths. Granted, whacking someone because they crossed you isn't the way I'd handle it. However, watching Jackson Teller become a dad and dealing with Samcro and his family taught me a few things along the way about what it means to be a man.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Welcome to Strongsville : Home of the Perfect Lawn

I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Cub Cadet. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation. All opinions are my own.
I finally found a vehicle that has ample legroom!

I've been mowing lawns since I was a teenager, pushing various mowers to earn a few bucks for gas money or nights out to the movies. I've taken care of lawns for the elderly in my neighborhood, managed a property where all the landscaping needed to be maintained, and have kept my own lawns healthy and happy at three different houses in which we've lived. 

With each new house I faced a different lawn care challenge. At our first home, I raised the freshly laid sod until it was established and weed free. At our next house, I faced the invasion of the dandelions after the previous owners just gave up on the grass. In our current house, the former residents mowed over anything and everything and never picked up, leaving me with a lawn that was mostly moss and forest floor ground cover. 

Instead of giving up, I armed myself with the knowledge and equipment to turn them around. I believe with a little TLC and the right tools any lawn can be resurrected.  You could say that I am a lawn care guru. There's nothing like being the first on your block to set the standard for your yard. You want a lawn that demonstrates your strength and adds to curb appeal not something that demonstrates weakness.

Now that I am getting a little older and my back a little worse pushing a mower for an hour is not my idea of a great time. There is going to come a time when I will need to pass off the grass cutting responsibility like my dad did when I was a teen. 

With the kids in school, I want a tractor that is going to get the job done quickly and efficiently so I can can go about the rest of my day and one I feel confident my son will be able to handle it. I need something strong that will last over the years and wear and tear.  So, I went shopping for a lawn tractor that I can pass down to my own son some day when caring for the lawn will become his responsibility. 
Cub Cadet is a brand I considered as they are dependable and well made, the perfect combination for cutting our lawn with precision and making the neighbors envious. 

I looked into the Cub Cadet Enduro XT2 Series Lawn Tractor which resists erosion with its patented E-Coat technology using an automotive grade corrosion resistance against wear and tear. If this riding mower looks like you bought from a car dealership, it's because it has been treated the same way. Getting the lawn it done quickly with the responsive power steering system will help me dodge lawn obstacles when those Barbies end up in the yard.  The cutting deck features heavy duty materials and an advanced belt design that will keep it running well into my son's teenage years so it's not just a purchase, it's an investment. 

At my test drive, I marveled at the turning radius as I slalomed around trees and maneuvered around other objects with ease. I have to admit it was so fun to drive that I did some donuts in the parking lot to really test its maneuverability.  I was impressed with the Enduro XT2's power but also liked a feature I haven't seen on any other tractors and that is it's ability to cut with the deck down while in reverse! 

With standard safety features like automatic engine cut off when the driver leaves the seat, I know myself and my son will be safer if there's a reason to leave the mower. The superior bagging ability will cut down on the amount of time I need to spend on it though it was as comfortable as my recliner. I also liked being able to view how much gas the tank has in it's digital display takes the guesswork out of whether I can get the job done with the right amount of fuel. 

Every XT2 tractor comes standard with premium Multi Trac tires featuring an aggressive tread design that directs the power straight to the ground, minimizing slip and spinning, even on wet grass. Cub Cadet’s XT Enduro Series lawn tractor sets a new standard, combining incredible strength with ultimate comfort. They call the Cub Cadet XT2 the
armored truck of lawn care because it stands up to everything, including every other tractor warranty out there. Backed by a warranty this strong (
Unlimited hours/5-Year Chassis & Front Axle/3-Year Powertrain) it's easy to see they are invested in a relationship with you for the long haul. 

Cub Cadet wants to welcome you to Strongsville. If this sounds like a good fit for your family, schedule a test drive at your local dealer by visiting the Cub Cadet website. You can make your lawn the talk of the town and turn your family into a Cub Cadet family for years to come.


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Monday, October 19, 2015

Playtime Is Our Time to Be Heroes

"Daddy, in this game cellphones are not allowed, at all." said my four year old daughter one afternoon after school. She's always been good at telling me exactly how she feels and at four years old that sometimes comes with a brutal honestly that I need to hear. Sometimes I need to be reminded that playtime is our time.

My days with her as a stay at home dad have been full of play ever since she was old enough to grasp things in her tiny hands I hold out an action figure in front of her and say "This is Duke, he's the leader of the G.I. Joes. Can you say Yo Joe?"  

To be honest when the kids were babies I found it kind of lame. They'd eat, sleep, poop and repeat all day long and I couldn't wait for them to start doing things. In fact, with all three of my children I can recall a time where I thought "They are so little now. When am I going to get to play with them?" I later realized that play was going to be what kept us closer together. 

I managed to squirrel away toys from my childhood which I kept in the attic waiting for the kids to get to ages where they would enjoy playing with the same ones I loved as a child. I slowly introduced my Star Wars figures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a crate of things my wife wouldn't let me display anywhere in the house. So, through all the years and multiple moves they survived and patiently waited for their turns to be manhandled by my children. 

It became a rite of passage as they became old enough for each of my children to play with Daddy's toys. As they were growing up I was always on the lookout for ways to introduce them to the ways I used to play. It took some getting used to the way they would play with them as I had kept them neat and organized in their respective cases. After my son's first time with my Secret Wars collection I just about had a panic attack when I couldn't find the black claws to my rare variant Wolverine.

Ask any man who has a collection of their old toys and they'll probably tell you how hard it was to let their kids play with them. It's that feeling you would get taking your toys to someone else's house and not wanting to share with them. My kids are the reason I saved all the toys before they were even a discussion my wife and I had over dinner a year into our marriage. I put them away so that they could enjoy them as much as I did but still had trouble letting them go. I guess when you spend so much quality time with them that they become a part of you. Luckily for many of us, we won't have to let them go.

With Hasbro's #PlayskoolHeroes line the old classics became new ones. Jurassic World? Transformers? Marvel? They are all here in preschool friendly versions so we can pass on our legacy of play and start new ones with our children while keeping their grubby paws off of our toys. I'm kidding! Sort of. What is most important about toys is not how much they are worth monetarily but what playing together means to our relationship.

I'm that dad cruising the toy aisles for the newest thing and I don't avoid them when we are at the store. I'm that dad on the floor playing until the last possible second before our next activity. Play is an important part of a child's development and I'm happy to be a part of it.

My daughter was immediately drawn to the Jurassic World T-Rex and while playing, loved to chomp everything in sight and apparently wanted more iron in his diet as War Machine Iron Man was her next victim. It's just in the nature of a T-Rex to want to bite everything.

Our play time is important for development but more for each other. When we play we are together and having fun, away from the internet, tablets, and life's distractions. Play is our time to bond and while playing with a four year old usually means I must copy everything she tells me to do and say or she might get angry, I'm happy to be her hero in that moment.

Parents, We Are Doin' Good

This post was sponsored by Socialstars and Minute Maid. All opinions expressed are DadNCharge's alone. #doingood #minutemaid

I want to be a jellyfish this year! my daughter announced once the leaves started falling. The wheels in my head had already started turning. A jellyfish costume? How am I going to make that happen? I must make that happen. I need to make that happen for my little girl.

It's on the thought of every parent who wants to make every moment with their children something memorable for Halloween and it's the self imposed pressure we put on ourselves that drives us crazy when we are hot gluing a costume together the night before trying to turn a pile of scrap material into magic. It's the reason we are creating Pinterest boards in July with costume ideas and watching YouTube videos thinking "I could totally pull that off!" and "How hard can that be?"

My kids have been challenging me every year with their wants and desires at Halloween. I have an attic full of bright ideas to prove it. I thrive on the challenge but it can be overwhelming. My son has already announced a desire to be Thor and he told me that we should start building the armor soon so it will be ready for the October 31st reveal. On one hand I enjoy being creative with them but sometimes I just want to go to the store and buy a costume on October 30th and be done with it.

It's my own fault as Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine since the kids were very small. My life as a stay at home dad is filled with days we would just dress up and play and when my kids would want to be something, I'd do my darnedest to make that happen.

Parents, we need to stress less. We need to be reminded that just the special moments with our children are what are really important. We need to remind each other that we all all #doingood just by being involved with our children's lives.  Kids love costumes but they don't need to be perfect. If the hot glue gun project turns into a hot mess, it shows your kids that no one is infallible.

We also worry what others will think of us if we show up with last year's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume or that we aren't clever or current enough to pull off that last minute costume. Maybe at the zero hour you realized that last year's princess dress was suddenly too small or shredded from dress-up overuse. Costumes can be easy as long as we don't stress. Tell your son to put on his Sunday best don a wig to make him The Donald and hope that he doesn't offend anyone during the class party.

Here's a reminder from Minute Maid that as long as you are a parent who is engaged and active in your children’s lives that this is what is important. You're making a difference in your children's lives by just being there. Let's forget Pinterest and praise from the homeroom parent. At the end of the day, your kids will still be attending their school's Halloween party in something that resembles a costume and squirreling away a bag of candy they will have until Easter.

Instead of focusing on what we perceive we are failing at, let's praise one another for what we are doing well. There is nothing like the praise of others to get us motivated to be the best parents we can be. Leave a comment below recognizing another parent you know. Let’s praise them for their efforts and recognize someone you know who is #doingood for their family.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I'm a Dad and I Parent Too

I was looking for an activity to do with my youngest child on a hot summer day a few years ago. She was only two and toddling around the house was becoming a bore. I decided that I would start taking her regularly to the library for story time. At story time they would read books and sing songs while dancing around. I loved watching her interact with the other kids and when the story would begin, she would scoot forward so close she would practically be touching the librarian's shoes trying to get a closer look at the pictures.

I've been reading to my kids ever since they were in the womb knowing that it was good for them to hear my voice even before they were born.  We've been reading to them every day since before bed as part of our bedtime routine. Literacy starts with just hearing the words you are saying to them. I can still recite Goodnight Moon and I Know a Rhino by heart because I've read them thousands of times.

On a typical day at the library I would most often be the only dad there, surrounded by moms and their children and nannies caring for someone else's children. On this particular day they were stressing the importance of literacy and how to help your child become a better reader. So, when it came time for the librarian to pass out the pamphlets I was interested to see what tips they suggested.

The librarian walked around passing out the pamphlets to each mom, grandma, and nanny in turn. She came around the oddly shaped semicircle and stopped in front of me and said "Uh, Do you want one?"

Um, "Yes, I would like one please" I responded. She didn't ask anyone else if they wanted one and I considered for a moment that maybe the response she was looking for was more along the lines of "Me read good. Make fire. Go hunt later." I didn't get why I was singled out but tried not to let it bother me though it did. I was singled out just because I am a dad. Unfortunately sometimes the way men are perceived when it comes to raising the kids we seem more like an afterthought.

I've heard lots of snide comments about being a stay at home dad some of which assume that I do nothing all day but play video games and scratch my nether regions while the kids may be out in the garage tinkering with the chainsaw. Well I have news for those people, it's not all donuts with dad and daytime television. It's filled with breakfast, getting the kids dressed, school lunches and homework. It's wondering if what I'm doing at home is preparing them for life. It's talking with them to find out how their day was. There is nothing that happens in my day that revolves around my gender. I'm a parent too.

This disregard for dads didn't stop when the kids grew older. Fast forward a few years to my youngest first starting school and emails that were supposed to be for all parents went to only the moms instead.  It's also been a battle with schools to get them to call me first and my wife second. She's at work and I am the one at home managing the household. There's a good reason I put a number one next to my name and a two next to hers. She is quick to point out to people who don't seem to get it to call me first instead of her. "Oh, my son is sick in the nurses office? You better call my husband, he's in charge." Don't bother calling my wife while she is working to support our family. I'm your huckleberry.

I've always maintained this attitude about gender roles and parenting "We are all parents" so let's start treating moms and dads the same. As Liz Henry of The Good Mother Myth stated in her post What if moms were treated like dads this school year?  we need to include dads whether they are working or not, that they aren't special unicorns when they appear at their child's school. Don't celebrate the fact that I am there because it isn't about me. I'm there for my child. There are so many more like me. We aren't the dads of old assuming our spouses will handle it all while the dog fetches our slippers. To quote Scott Behson from this past National At Home Dad Network Convention, "Almost every dad I know is putting in the work to be a loving, hands on, involved dad." Dads who are present and actively engaged dads have in interest in knowing what goes on in their children's lives, nothing more.

What it will take are dads stepping up into roles where they usually weren't before. Getting involved in your child's school PTA or skipping the lunchtime golf and volunteering in the classroom instead can go a long way. I've been to enough corporate lunches to know that there is some wiggle room in there to operate and make it work. If you can find the time to chaperon a field trip or just be a mystery reader it goes a long way in a child's life to see a parent in their school for something other than open house night.

Dads unfortunately can be seen as second class parents because of the roles we used to fill. In the past we'd often defer to our spouses claiming we weren't in charge of raising the kids and say we only helped in making them. The 1950's dad would rather hide behind a newspaper instead of play on the floor with their little tykes. It just isn't that way anymore. I see more dads at the playground and at story time than I ever have before. Now when I attend school functions, it's not just the moms running the show anymore. It's not because we feel we can lift your burden but instead lift up our children by showing them that we care.

This year, I volunteered to be on the parent board for my daughter's preschool. It's just me and a dozen moms but my contribution has changed the question from "Do we have any volunteers to be the room mom?" to "Do we have any volunteers to be the room parent?" It's small but significant change in the way we perceive dads and their roles as parents and not just as an accomplice to mom. It's that change in perception that will have a butterfly effect when it comes to dads being regarded as an equal partner in the raising of the children. Isn't it about time we recognize involved dads as the new normal?

Like this post? Continue it on Facebook at the DadNCharge page and tell me how your child(ren)'s dad is involved in their lives.